It happens in marriage that, after years of faithfully walking together, eyes on the prize, one person stays focused while the other goes off on a tangent. The one with her eyes still locked forward doesn't see her partner straying down a weedy lane.
While I thought we still shared the quest for the perfect cheese-grater -- one that would do the job quickly, compactly, and without shredding flesh -- he thought we already found it.
Now, I admit, our marriage is far from perfect. Who knows where we would be today, if not for our mutual search for a flawless cheese-grater. This objective bonded us. It kept us distracted in the kitchen when the wolf was at our door. It provided common ground when we couldn't see eye-to-eye. For 17 years, we devoted ourselves to the cheese-grater goal; raw knuckles and jammed utensil drawers driving us onward.
But this condiment crisis sent us into topsy-turvy turmoil.
"Where do you keep the food in here," my beloved asked one evening as he rummaged through the refrigerator. "We've got so many condiments there's nowhere to fit anything else."
"Food is just food," I countered, suspicious of his sudden interest. "We eat it out of necessity, to sustain ourselves."
With great deliberateness, he swung the refrigerator closed and turned to me. "We don't need all those jars of stuff. They're taking up valuable space."
"But condiments are bling for food," I defended. "They dress it up. Pickled banana pepper rings and capers and Asian ginger dressing are luxury items, status symbols. A large collection of condiments means we've arrived. Sauerkraut isn't clutter. Think of it as collateral."
As I guarded the four containers of sour cream, he squirted a half-bottle of Dijon into the Grey Poupon, poured the remaining ranch into the bleu cheese, and concocted a sordid cohabitation of stuffed olives with Polish gherkins, lobbing emptied bottles toward the trash. "Where do you come up with these crazy ideas? I mean, just yesterday you were convincing me to replace our wedding bands with mood rings and now you're trying to tell me ketchup is a luxury item."
"Honey, stop," I pleaded, blocking him from mixing mayonnaises into mayhem. "Did you know I read somewhere that the Chinese think it's good feng shui to keep a well-stocked icebox? We could be inadvertently destroying our harmony balance by making such drastic changes."
Scanning the shelves, he challenged, "Do we really need nine different marinades?"
His brazen betrayal numbed me. "I can't do this with you. Have you forgotten the cheese-grater?" I weakly questioned. "Please consider the ramifications of what you're doing."
Seeing the desperation in my eyes, he conceded, "You're right."
But I see his wistful gaze whenever he uses the barbeque-A1-Durkees-Italian-dressing, and I know he yearns for the road less traveled. With certainty, every marriage must change course. The person following the cheese-grater dream has to let it go and walk the weedy lane, too. Heck, for all I know, it'll lead to somewhere I wanted to go anyway, like Costa Rica.
(Lucy Adams, a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author, lives in Thomson. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.IfMama.com.)